Tell us about yourself
My name is Ayesha Aijaz from Srinagar, Kashmir. I am 24 years old. My father is an engineer and mother is a doctor. I have completed my MBBS and now I am in my internship period. My research was approved by ICMR. I have done multiple workshops and have also done observership in Kashmir.
What type of cancer were you diagnosed with, and when did you receive your diagnosis?
I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma (a type of blood cancer) which attacks your white blood cells when I was 14 just finishing my 7th grade.
I remember when I was in seventh grade about to appear for my final exam and a week before, I could not fall asleep. I was sick with cold & cough and instead of getting better, it was getting worse. As soon as I would lie down I would cough that would keep me up so I was sleep-deprived for a week. I remember going to a doctor early in the morning before my school on the day of my first paper. The doctor was certain that it was nothing serious but just wanted to make sure that there was nothing wrong so he asked me to do a Chest X-Ray. The moment he held it up against the light, he and my mother who is also a doctor were in shock. Although you can’t really diagnose cancer from an X-ray she knew something was wrong with me. In order not to scare me she just asked me to go give my exam and said it’s all okay. But I knew something was wrong.
I remember after finishing up my paper when I came out, I saw my father, mother, and uncle. Seeing so many people came to pick me up from school made me realize something is seriously wrong with me because when your both parents are working you don’t get much time from your parents and they would never come and pick you up. So yeah seeing them I could understand that something is absolutely wrong.
We went to Skims Soura and they did a CT scan and I remember the doctor saying it might be Lymphoma. I remember I was panicked as I didn’t know what Lymphoma was and whether really treatable or not. I called my uncle who worked as a doctor in New Delhi and told him I’m sick, I am scared and I don’t want to do my treatment in Skims, Soura. So he talked to my mother and the very next day we were in Delhi.
I remember telling my mom what about my exam, she said don’t worry about it we have discussed it with the school and they’re going to handle it.
As soon as we reached Delhi we went to Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute New Delhi. The pediatric doctor whom I had to meet was not there as she had gone for a conference to USA, so instead, I met the doctor who was there to treat adults. He was a senior doctor aswell and he called me “princess”. He was like you’re going to be just fine and he was trying his best to cheer me up. Also he was trying to explain things to me and how it would be. I remember him telling me that you’re going to lose all your hair. For a seventh grade girl to hear she will loose all her hair was a shock. I remember running away from his cabin and crying in the hall way. The old people sitting there who had also lost their hair came up to me said, “trust us dont worry it grows back, and even if it doesnt you can wear a wig, we also have wigs at home”. They were all trying their best to support me and be there for me.
Though at that tender age you are not afraid of death and it doesn’t matter if you live or die but I didn’t know what was down the road for me. I did not know how bad chemotherapy would be, later sometimes I used to feel it is worse than cancer itself.
What kinds of things did you do to distract yourself when you were going through treatment
I think the biggest thing that helped me get through the treatment was my family and friends. I have this friend who literally made sure to call me every single day. I love watching cricket, and she would watch the entire match even if it was a test match with me on phone. She would keep me updated literally about everything that was going around so that I wouldn’t feel like I’m missing out.
Did you ever think that you will loose this battle?
In the hospital, I was in a pediatric ward and I used to see so many sick children around. There were kids who were just 1 month old and were sick. I saw one kid die in front of me which devastated me. I was like where is Allah, how can he put such small children through such pain and misery.
I remember there was a time when they gave me an injection which was a very high dose and my body was not able to cope up with it. I had this immense pain in my stomach and I used to literally throw up everything, even water. I couldn’t keep anything down like literally nothing.
My mother who was pregnant at that time with my sister was admitted to another hospital for delivery. I don’t know either for a change or to make me eat something or to cheer me up, my doctor suggested to go and meet my mother. It was at this point I thought that I might be dying that is why they are asking me to go and meet my mother.
What are your future plans
Being stuck in one room in a hospital for eight months was tough but it also gave me a purpose for life. I realized I didn’t want to die without leaving a memory, a legacy behind. I didn’t want to be forgotten. Life was suddenly much more than marks, exams, petty politics, money and other temporary superficial luxuries.
It was there that I promised myself to find the cure of cancer if I made it through (or at least die trying).
I decided to make a plan. A little bit of research, and I saw a path ahead of me.
Step 1- MBBS
Step 2 – USMLE (because it is better to do research in US as there are more resources)
Step 3- Residency in Internal Medicine
Step 4- Fellowship in Medical Oncology
Step 5- PHD in Oncogenetics
Fast forward to twelve years later, with honours in all exams I’ve nearly finished the first step of my long journey. Alhamdulilah. But I still take it one day at a time, the way 14-year-old Ayesha in the hospital taught me to.
What advice would you give someone facing Cancer or another life-threatening illness?
My advice would be take it one day at time, don’t think too much about it, accept you are sick, and trust that you will get better.
If you are going to survive it then you have to give purpose to your life. You have to do something to make life better and easier for others and for that you have to find a purpose in life, else there is no point in your second life.
Article by Manan Mushtaq ( Reach out at [email protected] )